How can a good, all-powerful God allow suffering that comes from evil? Listen to this lesson to learn ways to engage people asking this question and help them understand the character of God. Find out three possible options for the existence of evil and how only the Bible has the answers. Hear how Job suffered at the hands of Satan and how God answered Job’s questions. See that only God can bring something good out of suffering and He will eventually destroy all evil.
At the beginning of this lesson Dr. Dean recommended a publication to read for more information on the Holocaust. Click for the April/May 2016 issue of Israel My Glory.
The Holocaust Anti-Semitism and Us: The Existence of Evil–Part 2
June 7, 2016
“Our Father, we are thankful for this time that we can come together this evening, that we can recognize Your grace and Your goodness to us. That at times of death we know that we are comforted. We are especially comforted when we know that the person who has died physically is absent from the body, face to face with the Lord, and that Your grace and mercy comfort us. Father, we know that we can know with certainty that our destiny is in Heaven if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Father, we pray for us tonight as we focus on Your Word, that as we address what is considered by many to be a critical question, if not one that causes many people to turn away from Christianity. We pray that You would help us to be able to think through how we would give an answer to those who may want to know why we believe that God is good. That You are good and that You are righteous and You are omnipotent and that You allow evil for a purpose, even though we may not understand it. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”
We are studying this issue of the existence of evil or the problem of evil.
In fact, I brought an article I will reference. This is a problem that many people bring up, especially when you consider horrific things that happen, such as the Holocaust, which was planned evil on the part of the Nazis. But you also have in life what we might call unplanned evil or random events of suffering and evil that occur. This raises the question as well that we can understand that God may have a purpose for some evil or suffering, but it seems like there is a lot of gratuitous suffering and evil in the world.
How can a good God allow these people to suffer?
It has absolutely nothing at all to do with who they are or what they are doing. We have to recognize that as a believer, according to 1 Peter 3:15, we always have to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us. People will ask hard questions. We need to be able to answer them to the level of our ability, and we also need to be able to point them to some things that they can read so that they can have an answer to the question, depending on the intellectual prowess or academics involved.
There are a number of resources that are available. There is one book that deals specifically with this problem written by Norm Geisler (The Roots of Evil) that I recommend. It deals with both biblical and philosophical arguments that are presented out in the market place. But we have to understand that no matter what our intellectual responses may be, and we do not have an option other than to give well-reasoned arguments.
That is the point of 1 Peter 3:15, always giving an answer. That word is the Greek word APOLOGIA, which means to give a reasoned, rational explanation for something. Depending on the person to whom you are talking that is going to go in different levels of sophistication.
But we also have to remember that in Romans 1:18 we are specifically told that the unrighteous are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They do not like the truth. They do not want to hear the truth. They will often react somewhat violently to the truth.
I was given an article. This came out on June 3, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal. It is a piece entitled “Are Atheists Afraid of God” written by Eric Metaxas. It is really an interesting piece because he deals with the fact that there is a man by the name of Larry Alex Taunton, who has written a book that talks about the faith of Christopher Hitchens (The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist). Christopher Hitchens wrote his book on denying the existence of God before his death in 2011. He was considered the world’s foremost spokesperson for atheism.
The author of the book, Larry Taunton, is a Christian. He became a close friend of Hitchens. He talks in his book about the many deep and profound conversations he had about the existence of God with Hitchens. How they even went on a couple of long road trips together, during which time they studied the Gospel of John together. I do not know. I do not think he indicates that Hitchens became a believer.
What is interesting about this review is the reviewer is talking about the level of hostile responses that have come Taunton’s way because he has dared to suggest that Hitchens was willing to engage in an unemotional, objective investigation and conversation with Christians about the existence of God. The hatred, the vilification, the horrible things that have been said and done.
In fact, at one point, all of these people who are hostile to Taunton, who are atheists, who are supposedly well-reasoned, rational, scientific people who have arrived at their conclusion that God does not exist, in their emotional outburst of a temper tantrum they crashed the Amazon.com site for this particular book. They have never read the book.
The very idea that this atheist hero of theirs might consider that his belief was wrong or have an objective unemotional conversation about the existence of God and the possibility that maybe he was wrong puts them in such a position of insecurity and fear that they react in anger. That is a problem that we face, but that does not mean that we dismiss such people.
It would be easy in the light of his public persona to have dismissed Christopher Hitchens in such a way, and to say that there is no way that we could ever get through and talk to that person. You never, ever, ever know what is really there. You may just know this brittle façade that is put out there in order to protect themselves from thinking about things. People do think about things.
Nobody, not one person here would have probably given the time of day to build a relationship and talk about the gospel with Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus. We would have written him off as impossible. That is not the way we can do it. We just cannot know. We always have to be able to present the gospel, to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
One of the major issues that has come up, and it comes up continuously, is this issue of:
How can a good God, if He is truly good, and an omnipotent God, who is truly all-powerful, allow evil to exist?
Especially when we come to grips with the level, the degree of evil that existed in Nazi Germany, the evil that existed in Hitler and in the leaders of the Nazi Party—those who put together the blueprint for the final solution for the Jews, those who built the gas chambers and everything else. That is a reality. If you are ever talking to somebody who is Jewish, this is a question that often and frequently comes up:
How can you really believe or hold on to a belief in a good God when He would allow something like this to happen to His people?
That is what we have been talking about.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a passage where God says:
“ ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ ”
We introduced that, talking about the problem of evil, stating it this way. The question is:
How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God … We are introducing certain attributes of God, His goodness or His righteousness, His love, and His omnipotence. How can a God who has those three characteristics allow the pain, the suffering, sickness, and death, that plague so many people to either exist or continue to exist?
Many of us are fairly sheltered from a lot of the evil that goes on in the world. There are a lot of horrible things that go on in this country, even in this city, that most of us are sheltered from. We do not see it. The abuse that takes place. The things that go on in places due to drug abuse and people who live on the streets and horrible diseases that go on in this country.
But the evil, the suffering that goes on in this country pales in comparison to what takes place in a lot of third-world countries, where they are under autocratic tyrannical regimes, where the people are starving to death. Venezuela is in free fall right now. People are starving to death. They cannot afford to get any food or the necessities of life. There are horrible things!
How can a good God let these things go on?
In terms of the Holocaust the question would be narrowed to:
How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow six million of His chosen people, these are His chosen people?
How can He let that happen?
Have them so brutally tortured and murdered?
It really focuses on the character of the Judeo-Christian God. I have pointed out that when someone who is not a Christian asks the question, it is a good thing in order to get people thinking about something. Some people say things flippantly. Some people are serious about it. But they say:
How do you explain it on the basis of your framework?
On the basis of your worldview, how do you explain the existence of evil?
We talked about that some last time, but a corollary question to that is when they say:
How can you say that God is good when He lets all this evil go on?
That is to ask the question:
What do you mean by good?
If you do not believe in God, how can you have a category of a transcendent intrinsic good?
How can you even talk about that?
You cannot talk about evil if you deny God. You cannot really talk about good if you deny God. In other words, the only reason they have these categories of good and evil is because they have stolen them from a Christian worldview. Somehow in our conversations we need to help them understand that they do not have a reason to even ask those questions.
We looked at the essence of God last time. We put up the usual ten attributes that we have in the essence box here. The focus is on His sovereignty, His righteousness and justice, His love, His omniscience, and His omnipotence. Those are the real attributes that are brought into the spotlight here.
The term righteousness is one that is used in the Bible, but the Bible also again and again and again uses a rather ambiguous word, the Hebrew word tov. In fact, the vocabulary in biblical Hebrew is much smaller than the vocabulary in biblical Greek. The words that we find in the Hebrew often have broader ranges of meaning than you have in Greek, and especially in English.
Sometimes people get the idea that Greek is more precise than English. That is not true. English has, because of 500 or 600 years of theological investigation and development, has a much richer and much more precise vocabulary for talking about theology than any other language in the world.
Paul basically, under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, was taking Koine Greek and using that language to express Old Testament concepts. He is basically coining or developing or laying a foundation for a future theological vocabulary. But Paul did not have words like “rapture” and “trinity” and a number of other words that we use, even “atonement.” He did not have those words. Those words were developed later.
TRINITAS (Latin) was developed by a 2nd and 3rd century theologian by the name of Tertullian, to describe the relationship between the triune God. The term “rapture” was not developed really as a technical term until Darby came along, even though the idea was present long before. In fact, you may not have realized this, because the lie, the distortion coming from the opponents of dispensationalism, is that Darby invented the “rapture.”
The reality is that a lot of research has been done from the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Study Group in the last 20 years. In fact, there is a recent book out called Dispensationalism before Darby, by William C. Watson. The author of this particular book has taught English history, 17th and 18th century British history for about 30 years. Before that he was involved in naval intelligence. He was involved in code breaking. He has one of those really detail-oriented minds.
Watson loves to go over to the libraries in England and just read the old sermons. He has written this book and documented the fact that were hundreds of Puritans in the mid 1600s to 1700s who did not believe the church would go through the future Tribulation period. This idea did not come along with Darby.
We have all these different words. Atonement was an English word invented from at-onement (13th century) to describe the concept of what was necessary to bring creatures into right relationship with God. The word “goodness” or tov represents a quality of God that is repeated over and over and over again in the Scriptures.
- God is love.
- God is omniscient.
- God is omnipotent.
These are the core issues that come into play when addressing this particular question.
Last week I pointed out that a basic question is:
Does evil exist?
There are only two answers, either “yes” or “no.” If you answer no, then basically that falls into the category of pantheism or some form of pantheism. Christian Science falls into that. It is a denial of evil. Evil is an illusion. Nobody who is in that camp is going to ask Christians to explain evil, because as far as they are concerned evil does not exist.
But on the other side, if you answer “yes,” there are basically three answers. I will start on the right of the slide with Pagan Polytheism. I gave a couple of quotes last time. In ancient paganism, before the creation of the earth, you had some kind of gods and goddesses that were evil and wicked. They had all the passions, all the jealousies, hatred, all the sins of human beings.
Usually you have sexual intercourse between two of the gods and goddesses. The result is the universe. Or you have one viciously killing, slaughtering, and chopping up another one, and it is from those body parts that the universe is made. But what you have is basically a very primitive view of the eternality of matter. In that eternality of matter you have the continuous existence of evil.
Then in Atheism you also have the eternity of evil, because the universe is nothing more than matter. Matter has always existed. In an evolutionary or naturalistic worldview, then evil and good coexist. In fact, in Darwinism evil is the mechanism of advancement.
Then you have Theism. Theism says that evil is finite and defeated. There is the answer. Only the Bible looks at evil as something that is real, that it is finite, and it is going to be defeated. Everything else looks at it as either normal or as nonexistent.
This is one reason why I think we had such a hostile reaction to President George W. Bush by the liberal left. The liberal left is dominated by a naturalistic worldview. They completely reject and abhor the concept of transcendental evil. After 9/11/2001 almost immediately President Bush began to describe the perpetrators of 9/11 as evildoers.
That is like telling an atheist God might exist. They hate it! Because if there is transcendental evil and transcendental good then they know in their souls that there is a real biblical God. That is what they are trying to stuff into the hole in the basement of their soul and suppress it.
We have looked at passages articulating the goodness of God:
Psalm 25:8, “God is good and upright …”
Psalm 35:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good …”
Psalm 69:16, “Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good …”
Psalm 118:1, 29, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
When I stopped last time it was because I wanted to look at the Old Testament Book of Job. Job, I believe, was the first book that was written in the Old Testament. It is interesting, if that is true, and I believe there is good evidence for that.
If that is true, then the first question God addresses is not where did man come from, but why must we suffer?
Where did evil come from?
Why do we suffer in answering that question of how we handle what appears to be gratuitous or unjust suffering?
Job is a lengthy book. It was written in order to answer this question. It is written in poetry. I believe the reason it is written in poetry is because poetry is a way that we can express our passions negatively and our emotions, because when you are going through suffering it does generate emotion and passions. This is a way of expressing that.
Job is not written like it is a scientific treatise. It is not a logic book like reading Geisler’s book on the problem of evil. It is something that comes from the visceral experience of Job’s suffering. The author of the book I believe is Job. The Jewish Talmud attributes the authorship to Moses, but I do not think that is likely for a number of reasons:
- The author of the book seems to be very familiar with the intricate thoughts and the discussions that took place between Job and his friends.
- Another reason is that the book has a number of Arabic words, unlike other Old Testament books.
- There is no mention of the Jewish people. There is no mention of Israel. There is no mention of the land of Israel. There is no mention of any of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. There is no specific Jewish content anywhere in the Book of Job, which suggest a Gentile writer, a non-Jewish writer.
- Also, there are a number of things in the book that indicate a date that is roughly at the time of the Jewish patriarchs.
I believe that Job lived at a time that was roughly contiguous with probably Isaac, maybe he overlapped with Abraham and Isaac, but it is about that time. This is indicated by the fact that his wealth is measured in terms of livestock. He functions as a patriarchal priest.
We see this in Job 1:5. He would offer sacrifices for his family. He would rise up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings for them. This is typical of that early, early period in Genesis. The musical instruments that are mentioned in the book are similar to those mentioned in the early part of the Pentateuch.
Job’s daughters become heirs of their father’s estate, which later would be impossible under the Mosaic Law. It is not dealing with somebody who is Jewish or Mosaic or under the covenant. The use of the word El Shaddai as a term for God is one that is familiar to the patriarchs, which is seen in Genesis 17:1, as well as Exodus 6:3.
The proper names of people and places in Job are also used in Genesis. This indicates that there is a commonality there. It is much more likely that this was a book written during the time of Abraham and Isaac, the time of the patriarchs.
Job teaches us a lot about God and about evil:
- We see in the Book of Job this emphasis on God as the Creator-God who is distinct from His creation. That Creator-creature distinction is significant. It is played out. God stands over against all of the universe and all of His creation.
That is important because first of all, when we look at these various answers to evil, I pointed out that one category of answer comes from those who are pantheistic. In pantheism God equals the universe. God equals His creation.
If you look at polytheistic religions, the idolatrous religions of the ancient world, then all of what we see in the universe is made out of the physical body or matter of the gods that pre-existed the present universe. Again, there is not a Creator-creature distinction.
Job is important. It sees God as being the Creator. Everything in the universe, everything in life, everything in the earth comes from God.
- The emphasis on various attributes of God. He is sovereign over His creation. God is the authority. Nothing can take place in His creation apart from His permissive will.
Because God gives permission or allows for certain things to take place does not mean God is morally responsible for those things, but that He has made it possible for people to exercise their volition, their free will. They can choose to do good or they can choose to disobey God and do evil. The key issue there is freedom. It is not freedom if there are restrictions from some authority. If you are limited in your freedom to do evil, then you are consequently limited in your freedom to do good.
So if God is going to allow His creatures to do good, then He has to also equally allow them to do and commit evil.
We are told in the Scripture that His rule is just. He has a standard of righteousness. Specifically, in Genesis 18:25 Abraham asked the question as God is about to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and completely incinerate everyone who lives there. Abraham asked the question:
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The answer is presupposing the question. Yes, He will, because He is righteous, that He will do what is right even if that is beyond our comprehension. God is just and God is righteous. We also have passages that emphasis that God is good, Psalm 25:8; Psalm 34:8 and many, many other passages in the Psalms talk about the goodness of God. Thus, the second point is that Job emphasizes the sovereignty of God over His creation.
- Job emphasizes the “omni” qualities of God—that He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This means that God knows all of the knowable.
I think in Calvinism you have a very truncated idea of the omniscience of God, because in Calvinism God only knows what He decrees. He can only know with certainty what will happen because of His decrees. God does not know all the knowable. He does not know all of what philosophers call counterfactuals. That is the things that will not take place that could or might take place. But Scriptures clearly indicate that God knows what would take place if there were other things that happened.
For example, there are various comments by Jesus that if God’s blessing and revelation, had appeared to Tyre and Sidon as Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But because Capernaum and Bethsaida, did not, they would reap a greater judgment from God [Luke 10:14]. In God’s omniscience He knows what would have or could have happened under different circumstances. God is omniscient. He knows all of the knowable.
We can maybe create an analogy for us. That if we take all of the knowledge of all of human history, all of the accumulated knowledge of everyone from Adam, including all the knowledge and wisdom of Solomon, and Leonardo DaVinci and Einstein. That all this only equates to a minor, minor particle of a piece of sand compared to all the other grains of sand in all of the world. All of those other grains of sand only represent a small minute portion of the infinite amount of knowledge of God.
What often happens in this issue is that when we look at the logic chains that are set up by those who are challenging the validity of belief in a good and loving God who allows evil, is that the bottom line is that they cannot imagine that there is a greater principle, a greater good that God would be achieving by allowing the evil that we see.
The assumption there is that we know enough, that any human being could possibly know enough, to be able to critically evaluate God when God knows an infinite amount and we know so very, very little. Omniscience is a key player. Omnipotence is something that is often misrepresented in the logic chains that atheist philosophers set forth. They will often say that God is able to do anything.
Well, God cannot make a square a circle. God cannot do a number of other things. He cannot sin. He cannot lie, the Scripture says. You have a number of things that God cannot do, but omnipotence means that God can do whatever He wills to do. There is nothing that limits God’s ability. But He cannot do something that is illogical or irrational.
God is omnipresent. He is present to every aspect of His creation, every atom, every subatomic particle. In all of the universe God is equally present to every part of His universe. That is omnipresence. This is recognized in the Book of Job. One of Job’s friends Elihu says:
Job 37:23, “As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power. In judgment and abundant justice; He does not oppress.”
In Job 37:24 Elihu goes on to say:
“Therefore men fear Him; He shows no partiality to any who are wise of heart.”
That means to those who are arrogant.
- Job emphasizes the inability of man to comprehend the knowledge of God in relation to all the factors related to His permissive will.
Man cannot get there. That is the bottom line in Job. It is when it is all said and done God is basically telling Job through a series of rhetorical questions. Starting in Job 38 God begins to ask Job a lot of questions and the bottom line on those questions is:
You do not know anything, Job. Yet you are sitting there questioning My decisions and My permissive will. Your knowledge is inadequate for it.
Job is shut down. Job is forced to submit to the authority of God, to the sovereignty of God.
- To deny the Christian position is to fall back on either the position that no evil exists or evil is normal.
Those are the only three options:
- No evil really exists.
- Evil is normal.
- Evil is finite is going to be brought to a righteous judgment at the end.
Those are the only three possible options. The people who want to raise the question that God is not just in allowing these things are standing on shifting sand. They are trying to leverage themselves against something. They are standing on quicksand. It is like you have a pry bar set up on a fulcrum and you are trying to move a 20-ton rock, and you are standing on quicksand. You are not going to budge the rock at all because your position is so faulty.
With all that I want to give a brief overview of the Book of Job. Job is an interesting book. It starts off with two chapters of narrative. Then from the rest of the book, until you get to the last part of the 42nd chapter, is all in poetry. Much of it is a dialog that takes place between Job’s three friends and Job.
When we look at this we have to understand what is going on here. When we are talking about evil, when we are talking about the loss of life and the loss of family, when we are talking to people who are genuinely wrestling with the suffering that endures in this life, we have to recognize that real tragedy exists.
People who do not have any doctrine or any frame of reference to absolute truth, when they enter into those kinds of circumstances are really in a deficit position when it comes to talking objectively about it because often they are very much involved in the situation emotionally.
We see that Jesus recognizes the horror of this in the example that He gives in John 11. When Jesus comes to the grave of Lazarus He first encounters Martha and tells her the very well-known verse:
John 11:25–26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
This is a clear statement of the gospel. Then He says what the issue is:
“Do you believe this (Martha)?”
Martha said “Yes” because the only issue is belief. It is not morality. It is not sin. It is belief in Jesus as the Messiah who died for our sins.
Then Jesus goes from there and He comes to the grave of Lazarus. Here you have the shortest verse in the English Bible:
John 11:34, “Jesus wept.”
You have to read the verse before it to understand why Jesus wept. He did not weep because His good friend, Lazarus, has died at a premature age, which is how you will hear so many people explain this passage.
If you read the previous verse, John 11:33, He looks with compassion on the grieving Jews that have gathered there with her, who are experiencing the profound loss and grief, because their friend, Lazarus, is gone. John 11:34–35, and “Jesus wept”.
Why did He weep?
Jesus weeps because it is an expression of His compassion for those who are going through something that God never originally intended, in terms of the ideal for the human race. Man was not created to be a sinner and to experience the ravages and the penalties and judgments of sin. That is abnormal.
The normal is what Adam was before the fall, spiritually alive and in close relationship with God. Nothing corrupted or tainted by sin whatsoever.
When God in the flesh looks upon human beings who are grieving because of death, they are grieving because of the abnormal circumstances of sin and the penalty of sin. This is why Jesus has compassion.
That is genuine compassion. The believer should have that compassion for those who are lost, those who are suffering, those who are experiencing these traumas because we live in sin.
If you look at the Job 1:1–8, we are introduced to Job. He is a man who lives in the land of Uz, which is probably a land associated with Saudi Arabia or the area to the south of Jordan and off toward modern Iraq. He lives in the land of Uz. His name is Job. We are told about his character. Two or three times we are told this in the first few chapters.
The point is very clear that what happens to Job is not because of something he has done or who he is. God says he is blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. He is living a good upright life to the best of his ability. God’s judgment of him is that he is blameless and upright. Those are not terms that mean he is perfect, but that he is a man who walks closely with God and lives a morally upright life.
We are told that he has seven sons and three daughters. We are told that he has great wealth, which is enumerated in Job 1:3. That he is the greatest of all the people of the east. He is the Bill Gates of his generation. He is prosperous. God has prospered him. We are told that it is a very happy family. His children all spend time together. They come together and feast on their birthdays. They have great banquets. When these banquets are over Job offers sacrifices for them in case they have sinned.
What happens in those first five verses is we are looking at the world as we look at the world in terms of what we can know. But what happens in Job 6 is God draws the curtain back so that we can see beyond the physical world to the immaterial invisible world that is not apparent to our senses.
What happens is when we are operating on empiricism, the philosophical view that we gain truth from what we see, taste, touch, smell, this is the source of knowledge for us. That that is incredibly finite. That there is something beyond our senses and beyond our reason that we can only know if it is revealed to us.
Again, Adam and Eve could learn a tremendous amount. They could have spent centuries analyzing all of the natural phenomena in the Garden of Eden—identifying the trees—done innumerable studies, done all kinds of things and come up with tomes and tomes and tomes of libraries filled with information.
But there was only one piece of information Adam and Eve needed to properly organize all the other data.
That was that they could not eat from this one tree because it was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If they ate from it they would die. It is that spiritual insight. It does not have to be a lot. But it is critical to organize all of the other empirical data. That is what we see in Job 1:6:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.”
Notice, there is no introduction as to who the “sons of God” are and who Satan is. In fact, Satan is only mentioned by name one previous time in the English canon. That is in 1 Chronicles when it references Satan’s temptation of David (1 Chronicles 21:1).
Satan is identified as the “serpent” back in Genesis 3, but the name “Satan” is not used there. We do not find this name “satan,” which means “the adversary” until later. In Jewish theology Satan is not a fallen angel, he is just the adversary of God. He is not necessarily even evil. They do not believe in a rebellion of angels, which is what we believe.
We come to the “sons of God.” The term “sons of God” always refers to all of the angels, both the elect or holy angels and the fallen angels. They all come before God. Satan is among them. The Lord is the one who initiates the conversation in Job 1:7. God says, where have you been? Satan said, “I have been going to and fro on the earth.”
In other words, I, Satan, have been out cruising on the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom I may devour, 1 Peter 5:8. Then the Lord says, well, have you thought about Job? I want you to look at My good servant Job.
How does God characterize Job?
“There is none like him on all the earth.”
In Job 1:8, God says Job is unique in his spiritual maturity at this time. There is no one like him on the earth. He is blameless. He is upright. He fears God and he shuns evil. That is the same thing that we saw in the first verse. God gives Job an A+ for his spirituality. He is not messing up.
Satan says, well, he does that because you are too good to him, God. You know, tit for tat. He worships you, You give him good things. Satan says this is all because of prosperity theology. You do something for Him and God is going to make you prosperous. This is the lie that is promoted on most of these Christian television networks.
Satan says, have You not made a hedge or a wall of fire around him and all that he has and his household? You have blessed Him. But if you just take it away, he is going to curse you. And the Lord said in Job 1:12, okay. He gives Satan permission.
This tells us that Satan cannot personally get involved, or his demons cannot personally get involved in tempting or testing an individual believer without God’s permission. God knows that there is only so much that we can handle. According to 1 Corinthians 10:13 God is not going to allow us to be tested above what we are able.
God recognizes Job has the spiritual maturity and the wherewithal to handle what is going to come. He started off good, but he did not finish well. But that is how it is when we fail. There is this catastrophe that occurs. It all occurs within a very short amount of time because Job hears about it from one messenger after another.
First of all, he learns that his 500 yoke of oxen, that is a thousand oxen are plowing. 500 donkeys are out in pasture. The Sabeans raid them and take them away. They killed all the servants. That is all his employees out there working the fields and working with the animals. Only one servant escapes.
Then another servant runs up and says that this fire from God fell from Heaven. It burned up all of his 7,000 sheep and his servants. The messenger servant is the only one who escapes. While he is still speaking someone else runs up and says the Chaldeans attacked and took out the 3,000 camels. They took the camels away and killed all the servants.
In other words, Job has gone from wealth to zilch in about 30 seconds. He has lost everything he has. Then another servant comes up and says, your seven sons and three daughters were celebrating. They were in the oldest brother’s house. A big wind came up. The house was destroyed and fell on them and they are all dead.
You, Job, have lost all your family. Everything that you had except your wife has been wiped out. Job goes into grief. He tears his robe, but he focuses on God. He says at the end of Job 1:21:
Job 1:21, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job praises the Lord even in the midst of his loss. Then we are given the divine viewpoint evaluation of Job on his test:
Job 1:22, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
There is a difference in degree between what happens here and the Holocaust—the intentional planned murder of over six million Jews. But it is not a difference of kind. It is evil. What happens here is evil. It may be argued that this (Job’s suffering) is a worse kind of evil because it does not seem to have any significance or value or purpose. That Job is gratuitously suffering for no real reason, and God is the one who instigated it. It does not appear to be something good for God.
Then we go to the second scene (Job 2). Again there is a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before God. Satan was there. This time the LORD says to look at Job. He passed the test. He is still blameless and upright. He fears God and he shuns evil.
Job 2:3, “And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.”
Satan says “skin for skin, all that a man has he will give for his life.” You would not let me touch his life. Let me touch him now. Let me attack his health. The Lord gives permission. The Lord says the only restriction is that Satan has to spare Job’s life.
Job is struck with painful boils from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head. You can think of a lot of places on your body—you have painful sores on your feet. It is hard to walk. You get painful sores in a lot of places in your body. It is very painful to sleep, to move, to do anything. His wife, spare us from wives like this, says in Job 2:9:
“Curse God and die.”
Job refuses to listen to her. He says, Job 2:10:
“Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”
Divine viewpoint evaluation:
“In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Then Job’s three friends hear about his adversity and they come. Then the next chapters, all the way to Job 37, will be a flyover. Each of Job’s friends comes to the situation from different viewpoints. They each emphasize different aspects of God.
Eliphaz emphasizes the fact that God punishes the wicked. You are being punished. Therefore, you have sinned. Bildad says that God’s justice is great, and He punishes the wicked. He comes from a slightly different viewpoint, but it is basically the same. Zophar says God’s ways are inscrutable. We cannot unscrew the inscrutable. He punishes the wicked quickly.
The bottom line from Job’s three good buddies is Job, you are going through this because you have done something wrong. It is all your fault. It cannot be God’s fault. Even though they exhibit different tones and different approaches it is basically the same.
If you read through it, Job’s responses get longer and longer. His friends’ arguments get shorter and shorter. Finally, towards the end, Job is basically saying he wants to stand like a man and talk to God about this. He wants to confront Him and say why in the world have You done this? Help me to understand.
The bottom line is that God is going to use these questions to focus Job on what he does not know. God starts off. I am just going to read a few of these to make a point. I am not going to read everything from Job 38–41. In Job 38:2ff God is talking to Job. He tells Job that he is saying a lot of things, but you do not really know anything. That sets the tone.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” ’ ”
Job is not a witness to creation, so he cannot say anything.
“Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
In other words, the angels witnessed it, but Job, you were not there. You do not know.
“Or who shut in the sea with doors …”
Who had the power to limit the water, as we see in Genesis 1?
Then God goes on. He has question after question after question related to everything that He did in laying out the universe and the creation and the stars and all of the basically physical things. The bottom line is to show that Job cannot answer anything.
When we get to Job 40:4 and Job answers the LORD and says, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth.”
In other words, I am speechless. I have been shut down completely, because I cannot answer any of these questions.
The Lord then comes back to him with another series of questions starting in Job 40:6. At the end of all of this Job answers the Lord in Job 42:1–4, 6:
“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak … Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ ”
The bottom line of this is that when we make these claims that say:
How could a good God allow this to happen?
We are making an assumption that ultimately, as we will see in just a minute, that there is nothing good of an eternal value that can come out of evil, that it is impossible for God to even control evil to bring something out that is of transcendental value.
Here is the argument that we see from the pagan world.
If God is good, then He must not be powerful enough to control all the evil. They are defining “good” a certain way. It is a limited idea of good. It is their idea of what is good based on their limited knowledge. That is their premise. In a discussion you have to say:
What do you mean by good?
Where do you even get this idea of good?
To have the idea of God as being good you have to have an idea of transcendental evil.
Where are you getting these ideas?
Their reasoning is if God is good then He must not be powerful enough to control all the evil, injustice, and suffering in the world since it continues. That is assuming that there is not a higher good. They go on to say that if He is powerful enough to stop all of this injustice and suffering, then He must not be good! If He can stop it and He allows it, then He must not be good because it continues.
Here is their syllogism:
- If God is all powerful, He could destroy evil.
- If God is all good, He will destroy evil.
We can question that, because to make that statement correct we would change it to be, “If God is all good He will destroy evil eventually.”
- But evil is not destroyed.
To answer that we would have to put “evil is not yet destroyed.”
- Therefore, there is no all-good and all-powerful God.
That is their reasoning. If God is all-powerful He could destroy evil, because He does not He cannot be all-powerful or if God is all-good He would destroy evil, but since He does not destroy evil, He cannot be all-good. That is their reasoning.
Here is the biblical answer:
- If God is all good, then He will destroy evil.
That is true.
- If God is all powerful, then He can destroy evil.
That is true. Or we can say He will eventually destroy evil.
- Evil is not yet destroyed.
That is the difference between this syllogism and the previous one. Evil is not yet destroyed.
- Therefore, evil will be destroyed eventually.
The biblical position is that evil is not transcendent. It is not eternal. It is not unrestricted. It will be judged. It is finite.
Another way of expressing this from the pagan viewpoint is that they say:
- An all-good God must have a good purpose for everything.
- There is no good purpose for some suffering.
That is their assumption. That there cannot be anything that is an overriding transcendent good to allow the kind of suffering that we see.
- Hence there cannot be an all-good God.
In struggling and wrestling with this issue and thinking through this issue of the problem of evil, this is why I some years ago came to the conclusion that when we answer the question related to the eternality of the Lake of Fire—
Why does God allow this?
It is because God has shown in the angelic conflict and from the Garden of Eden that any sin, any disobedience to Him, no matter how inconsequential, like the eating of a piece of fruit. Most people would say, not only is that not an evil, eating fruit is good for you. But God is showing that any act of disobedience, no matter what it involves, whether it is eating a piece of fruit or killing six million people, that it is so devastating that eating a piece of fruit led to the murder of the six million people.
Eating a piece of fruit is what led to every famine, every natural disaster, every crime, every violent act, and every injustice that has ever occurred in the human race. Because only when we are completely submissive to God is there going to be real peace and harmony.
God is showing this and ultimately, because He is omnipotent, He can “work”, Romans 8:28, “all things together for good”. Romans 8:28 does not say all things are good. It says God will work all things together for good, an ultimate transcendent good.
What we see here in terms of an answer to the syllogism related to purpose:
- That we do not know a good purpose for evil does not mean that there is none.
We cannot comprehend it. That is the argument of Job. If God explained it to Job, he does not have the capacity mentally to comprehend all the data. All he is left with is trusting in the righteousness and the justice of God. It is what Abraham said:
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”
Presuppositionally, because God is who He is, what He does is going to be right. We may not see it now, but we will see it one day.
- An all-good God knows a good purpose for everything (including evil).
He is able to work all things together for good.
- Some evil seems to us to have no good purpose.
- But an all-good God has a good purpose for everything.
- Therefore, even evil that seems to have no good purpose does have a good purpose in the plan of God, even though we cannot understand it or see it.
- Therefore, there is a good purpose for all suffering, even that which we cannot now explain.
It is not about reason. The problem with Christopher Hitchins, the problem with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the problem with the atheist who lives next door to you, or works with you, or is your brother, or your sister, or your child, or your parent. It has nothing to do with reason. It is a spiritual revolt against God.
That is Romans 1. They have chosen to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They know from observing the universe that God exists. That is Romans 1:18–19. They know the universe exists, but they are suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. This is a battleground for us as Christians.
Sir Arthur Keith made this observation:
“Christian ethics are out of harmony with human nature (that should read sin nature) and are secretly antagonistic (he recognizes this as an evolutionist) to Nature’s scheme of evolution.”
If you believe in the Bible you are 180 degrees opposed to the world. People who try to assimilate to Darwinism and evolution and the long ages of the earth and everything else are just part of the problem and not a part of the solution. They want to cherry pick what they believe in the Bible like everybody else.
Either you take every bit of the Bible to be true or go be a Buddhist or go be a Moslem or go be an atheist, but do not say that you are a Christian, because you do not believe the Word of God.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things. Help us to recognize that the Scriptures give us the answer. We may not like the answer. We may not understand the answer, but they tell us that You are the answer. We just need to trust in You and believe Your Word.
Father, we pray that when we as individuals are talking to and ministering to folks that are suffering, that have gone through suffering, who are dealing with extreme tragedy in their life and wrestling with can they trust You, that we can help them think through the answers biblically. That you can use us to encourage and strengthen them. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”